Installing an aquarium filter setup can seem like a daunting task for someone who has never owned a fish tank before.

However, if you are serious about maintaining different kinds of aquatic animals and plants in your home, then you will need to familiarize yourself with aquarium filters and how to install them properly.

In this article, you’ll learn all about the different kinds of aquarium filters, how to choose the most suitable setup for your fish tank, and how to install fish tank filter. We’ll cover the basics and the more technical aspects of filter installation and management.

By the end of this article, you should feel confident enough to set up and maintain an aquarium filter on your own.

Aquarium Filter: What Is It and Why Is It Necessary?

For many novices to the fish-keeping hobby, the aquarium filter might pose some kind of mystery. After all, fish in their natural habitat don’t need mechanical filters.

So what is an aquarium filter, and why is it necessary for home fish tank setups? Basically, an aquarium filter is a tool that fish hobbyists use to control water parameters in the limited space of a fish tank.

You can think of the aquarium filter as a necessary part of your fish tank in that it performs two important functions. First, it aerates the water in your tank so your fish can breathe.

Second, it helps filter out toxic substances, waste, and other substances that could prove detrimental to your fish’s health. The aquarium is such a closed ecosystem that it is crucial to maintain consistent water parameters that are as close as possible to conditions in natural bodies of water for your fish’s health and longevity.

Kinds of Water Filtration

There are three basic kinds of water filtration systems. Learning about them is important if you plan to build different types of aquariums in the long run. For instance, you might find that nano tanks would be better off with one kind of filtration, while larger community tanks would certainly need a more powerful filtration system.

Below are the three different kinds of water filtration and brief descriptions of their potential applications.

1. Mechanical Filtration

This is the type of filtration most people imagine whenever they think of the typical home aquarium setup. This type of filtration makes use of a machine to circulate the tank water, filter out waste and other substances, and then reoxygenate it.

While mechanical filtration systems are easy to maintain, they still require you to physically replace the filter material and perform regular maintenance checks on the equipment. You might want to consider mechanical filtration systems if it’s your first time to set up an aquarium, or if you want to manage a large community tank.

2. Biological Filtration

This is the most natural kind of filtration that aquarists can use. Biological filtration leverages the beneficial bacteria present in different water conditions. These beneficial bacteria then multiply due to the interactions between fish, aquarium plants, and other elements in the environment.

That said, you don’t need to attach any kind of equipment or tools to your aquarium for biological filtration to kick in.

This type of filtration is best used in combination with another water cleansing method to prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria or algae clusters.

3. Chemical Filtration

Chemical Filtration occurs when aquarists rely on chemical substances like adsorbents and resins to purify and aerate the aquarium water. This type of filtration is considered to be one of the easiest and most effective to implement in the majority of home aquariums.

Aquarists can use chemical filter substances such as activated charcoal, carbon mixtures, and prepared resin compounds to dissolve harmful particles in the water. These chemical filters are usually available in local fish stores.

This kind of filtration is commonly used in conjunction with mechanical or biological filtration, depending on the size and water parameters needed by a tank’s inhabitants.

Types of Aquarium Filters

There are several types of aquarium filters available on the market today. You can learn all about their main parts and get a good idea of how each of them works by reading the section below.

This will help you choose the best type of filter suited to your preferences and aquarium setup.

1. Sponge Filter

This is considered to be the most basic type of aquarium filter available. This aquarium filtration setup is made of three main components: a sponge filter, an air pump, and a connecting tube. Sponge filters are best used for isolation tanks and fry tanks, but could be installed in other kinds of aquariums needing gentle filtration as well.

  • cheap
  • easy to install and maintain
  • provides good aeration
  • it cannot easily be placed in an aquarium due to its size
  • cannot be paired with chemical filtration substances

2. Box Filter

The Box Filter is another common type of aquarium filtration system. It was the first kind of filtration system to be introduced in the fish keeping community; it used to be called the corner filter.

Its main parts include a box for filter media, an air pump, and a connecting tube or air line. These filters are best used for isolation and fry tanks, as these do not disturb the water too much.

  • very cheap
  • customizable filter media
  • not efficient in terms of tank water aeration and nitrates management

3. Canister Filter

The Canister Filter is one of the more popular types of filtration systems used today. It consists of the filter machine enclosed in a canister or container that is placed outside or below the tank, input and output hoses, and different layers of filter media stored in dedicated trays.

An aquarium canister filter setup is often recommended for tanks that have several types of fish living together as well as aquariums that have a high potential for waste buildup or bioload.

  • highly efficient at water aeration and keeping the tank clean
  • expensive
  • difficult to set up and service in case of machine failure

4. Hang-on-Back Filter (Power Filter)

This is an example of an external fish tank filter as its main filtration device sits outside of the aquarium. An input and output hose ferries the water out of the aquarium and into the layers of filter media, and then back into the fish tank again.

The Hang-on-Back filter usually sits on the rim of the aquarium and hardly takes up any precious tank space at all. This popular filtration method is recommended for all types of aquariums and is usually what beginner fish keepers will opt for when setting up their first tank.

  • easy to install
  • does not take up too much space
  • has several layers available for different kinds of filter media
  • the motor inside the main filtration machine is prone to damage over time

5. Undergravel Filter (UGF)

Similar to the Box Filter, the Undergravel Filter is an old type of filtration system that has no moving or visible parts that take up space inside the aquarium. This system sits under the substrate of a tank and pulls water downwards against different undergravel filters.

Although this filtration system is sometimes considered as outdated, it is still available on the market today.

  • cheap
  • easy to install
  • can be upgraded with powerheads
  • ineffective over time creates poisonous zones inside the aquarium
  • cannot be installed in tanks with live plants or tiny fish

6. Trickle Filter

This particular filter is more popular with saltwater or reef aquarists. However, more and more freshwater fish keepers are beginning to adapt the Trickle Filter as part of their home aquarium setups. Trickle Filters are made up of an overflow and several trays of filter media stacked on top of each other and located above the aquarium.

The overflow mechanism moves the tank water up and towards different layers of filter media. The water is then directed to fall and trickle through the various layers of filter media, including, but not limited to, rocks, cotton, ceramic, and polyurethane foam.

  • fairly easy to install
  • effective at filtering out nitrates and other harmful substances
  • provides natural tank water aeration
  • prone to clogging
  • filter media should be replaced quite often
  • difficult to clean the different layers

Of all these amazing aquarium filtration systems, we highly recommend the canister filter for its ease of use, efficiency at water aeration, and its compatibility with different kinds of fish tanks.

How To Set Up a Fish Tank Filter

In this section, you will learn the basics of how to set up your own aquarium filtration system. There are basic installation guidelines that remain constant no matter what type of aquarium filter you choose for your home setup. Here are the main things you have to consider and keep in mind whenever you install an aquarium filter.

1. Start With an Empty Tank

Do not attempt to install filtration systems in a stocked aquarium. If you already have fish living in your aquarium and you want to introduce a new filtration system or install the tank’s first filter, move the fish and fauna to an isolation tank first.

Starting with an empty tank will prevent the fish and live plants from getting stressed or accidentally  injured during the filter set up.

2. Always Read the Manual

This seems to be such a simple and obvious rule. However, you’d be surprised at the number of fish keepers who commit filter installation mistakes all because they did not read the instruction manual. If you are installing a filter system with moving parts or different components, be sure to read and understand the instructions written in the manual.

3. Consider Possible Filter Locations and Positions

Take a good look at the current setup of your aquarium and where you can potentially install the filter. Double-check if your chosen filter is supposed to be placed outside or inside your aquarium and if the filter will block any spaces that your fish see as places to hide or rest in.

Remember: good aquarium filter placement is the key to enjoying the benefits of more efficient tank water filtration.

4. Position All Filter System Parts

This is the only time you can proceed with the aquarium filter installation proper. Be sure to submerge all parts that need to be placed underwater, especially if you are using filter systems that take up aquarium space.

On the other hand, if you are using filters that stay out of the aquarium, make sure you have properly positioned all of its components, such as input and output hoses and filter media trays.

Only when you have positioned every part of the filtration system according to the manufacturer’s specifications can you consider switching the filter on to check if it works.

Test out your filter system by letting it run for a few hours. Use simple water testing kits to monitor water parameters and identify any drastic changes that might occur due to faulty installation. At this point, you can adjust the tank heater or any other devices you have installed in your aquarium.

Allow your newly installed filter to run for at least 24 hours before introducing fish and live plants.

Final Thoughts on Aquarium Filters

We certainly covered a lot of topics on aquarium filters and how to properly install them in your home aquarium. Here is a summary of the article’s key points.

  • Aquarium filters are instrumental in maintaining clean and oxygenated water.
  • There are three kinds of filtration methods: biological, chemical, and mechanical.
  • There are several types of mechanical filters available for fish hobbyists.
  • Be sure to consider the pros and cons of each filter that you have access to before actually installing one in your aquarium.
  • Start with an empty tank, and be sure to read the instruction manual before you move on with the aquarium filter installation process.

With these key concepts in mind, you should be able to choose the best type of filter for you and your aquarium. Then, with patience and dedication, you should be able to install your chosen filter with ease and confidence.

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